LAST YEAR’S ICON • by Walt Giersbach

Silence was a shroud that draped itself over Alexis Lee as she stepped carefully across the room. The ten or a dozen guests seemed to suck in their collective breath as every eye followed her across the parquet floor. Step by step. Tap tap tap, her Manolo Blahnik heels echoed.

Max Kamins, the producer, had ordered her to come to his party or she’d have pleaded fatigue, a migraine, the death of her chihuahua.

She was an arm’s length from the pier table set with glasses and bottles when her heel caught on something — something on the wooden floor? — and she fell headlong. Breaking glass tinkled like little bells.

Alexis’s eyes slid over the crowd of beautiful people, money people, go-to people. As the room rotated in slow motion she scanned the moonlike faces, the contemporary white furniture and the large window that framed the sun setting over the Pacific. A director would call it an establishing shot, the camera panning the location.

“Ooooh, shit,” she said or didn’t say. The words may have been in her head because the eerie quiet didn’t break until the sound of one person clapping, slowly, broke the tension.

“Here she comes, Miss America.” The phrase reverberated until another voice — more sympathetically — said, “Put her in the bedroom. Make sure she doesn’t barf on the Berber rug.”

She lay supine on the cool bed, her still-open eyes fixated on the sliding door leading to the deck.

“You never could drink.” Soft and endearing words, spoken with a tinge of sorrow, seemed to float into the room.

She registered on the words as the bedroom door clicked shut. She gazed out the slider to the beach and the sea and the setting sun as the room rotated past her alcohol-fueled eyes. The statement wafted through the portal and down the corridors of the past, reminding her of another place, in the foothills of Wyoming where the gray granite Tetons backdropped green ponderosa pines.

“You never could drink.” Those were her father’s words, spoken humorously when she spilled punch at her sixth birthday party, and again as a teenager who dropped a crystal water goblet at Thanksgiving. They continued to laugh — her parents who later separated and her brother who didn’t come back from Iraq and her boyfriend who eventually merged his Chevy Camaro with a tree. She had joined in their amusement each time. The tears came when she was alone.

Dad’s jocular reminder seemed to glide through the closed door. But how was it possible to hear a whisper over the breaking waves?

Other words from the cocktail party clearly passed through the portal.

“Three movies and straight downhill.” It was a young man’s voice with a superior giggle at the end of his statement.

“An anachronism. Last year’s icon, today’s dead meat,” someone else said, a woman.

“Now she has a leftover life to kill. How come you invited her, Max?”

Alexis didn’t hear his mumbled answer. Her eyes burned from the ruby ball of sunshine dying in the west, but she couldn’t turn her head. “Never could drink.” The words returned, along with memories a week ago of clipping someone in a crosswalk on La Cienega and joking about her flat tire. “He shouldn’t have carried a bottle under his coat,” she laughed after the police let her out on bail.

Verfremdungseffekt,” the man with the giggle in his voice said distinctly. “That means keeping your distance from suspended disbelief. Alexis never did understand disbelief. She’s toast now. Directors at the studio are keeping their distance, like just talking to her’ll give them box office AIDS.”

“She’s turning her dreams into drama, but she hasn’t figured out what her dreams are so she just goes for the drama.”

More tinkling laughter, and the whisper came again, “Never could…”

No!  She struggled with determination. I can drink, but I choose not to. Choose not. Choose… She rolled off the bed and crawled to the slider, letting the sound of the breakers invite her outside and across the wooden planks toward the sun sinking in clouds of blood.

She’d prove it to them, dammit! To her folks wherever they were, to her brother’s ghost, to the boyfriend whose name she couldn’t remember. They’d see the new Alexis Lee, a performer who still had one more act. The trail of her footsteps in the sand back to L.A. would imitate those just-born turtles flailing their way to the sea to drink up a new life. Alexis was coming back.

“I’ll show them,” she told the sea breeze. “Show everyone. Get my hair done. A facial. I’ll call Kamins and demand that role. Tomorrow.”

Walt Giersbach‘s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child.

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